There's a shortstop in the American League who has all the qualities of a superstar. He's very young, very charismatic and very skilled at hitting, baserunning and fielding.
Carlos Correa? Good guess. Xander Bogaerts? Another good guess. Manny Machado when he's not playing third base? Yet another good guess.
But if you guessed Francisco Lindor, congratulations! That might mean you can read a headline. Either that, or you're giving Lindor the kind of attention that seemingly few others are giving him.
He's been as big a reason as any for why the Cleveland Indians find themselves atop the AL Central, and he continued the trend in the club's eighth straight win Saturday. As Carlos Carrasco spearheaded a 6-0 win over the Detroit Tigers with a four-hit shutout, Lindor led the Tribe's offense with a pair of home runs.
Feast thine eyes on his second, a solo shot in the eighth that effectively put the game out of reach:
Whatever the case, the 22-year-old now has 10 home runs on the season. That goes with a .306 average, an .837 OPS and 12 stolen bases on one side of the ball. On the other side, Lindor's glove and arm have already made his personal highlight reel a feature-length spectacle.
All this looks similar to a rookie breakthrough that nearly won Lindor the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015. If that was Lindor's star turn, what we're seeing this year deserves to be called his superstar turn.
And yet, you'd never know it from looking at the people's favorite American League shortstops. If the latest All-Star voting update is any indication, the masses prefer:
- Xander Bogaerts: 2,116,020 votes
- Alcides Escobar: 1,150,576 votes
- Troy Tulowitzki: 814,544 votes
- Elvis Andrus: 642,180 votes
- Carlos Correa: 552,670 votes
It's not surprising to see Bogaerts on top, as that's where you'd expect to find a Boston Red Sox player with a league-leading .349 batting average. After winning the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and entering the year amid a whole lot of hype, it's more surprising that Correa isn't near the top.
But nothing is as surprising as Lindor not being in the top five. He's up there with Bogaerts among the AL's best players this season. And according to FanGraphs WAR, Lindor entered Saturday as one of the best everyday players in baseball, period, over the last calendar year:
|Top Position Player fWARs in Last 365 Days|
|Josh Donaldson||Blue Jays||158||9.2|
Of course, WAR isn't a perfect measure of value. The idea that Lindor has been the third-best position player in baseball over the last 365 days is less of a fact and more of a theory.
But as far as theories go, this is a darn good one.
One thing WAR recognizes is that defense is more important at shortstop than it is at other positions, so it's naturally going to fawn over any shortstop who excels with the leather. The metrics say Lindor has done that, as he ranks as by far the AL's best shortstop in both defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating over the last two seasons.
Former Cleveland great Omar Vizquel has basically the same opinion as the metrics, telling Zack Meisel of the Plain Dealer: "Ever since last year, when I first got the chance to see him, it's like, 'Wow. This kid has a lot going on.'" Which brings us to an obligatory highlight to further prove the point:
Baseball America seemed to speak for everyone in rating Lindor as a 70-grade defender going into last season, so the quality of his glovework in the majors is no big shock. Because he also stole 90 bases in parts of five minor league seasons, the same can be said of his 24 career stolen bases.
What's more shocking is what Lindor has done at the plate. The switch-hitter only had a .279 average in the minors, and he socked just 21 home runs. In light of that, his .309 career average and 22 home runs in the majors look out of place.
But as Lindor told me in October, his offensive surge in the majors has a lot do with how he's soaked up information from the people around him.
"Michael Brantley. Jason Kipnis. Carlos Santana. They backed me up a lot," he said. "There was also the work. The coaching staff makes you put in the work, day in and day out. That helped me as well."
Nowadays, Lindor is taking all of his good work last year and pushing the envelope. He's walking more, upping his BB percent from 6.2 to 8.6. He's striking out less, dropping his K percent from 15.8 to 12.8. But somehow, he hasn't sacrificed any power to make these improvements. His isolated power has only dropped from .169 to .165.
The only thing that's not holding strong is Lindor's batting average on balls in play, which has dropped from .348 to .322. That's still well above average, though, and things should stay that way. As August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs wrote last month, Lindor's speed, ability to use the whole field and ability to avoid easy outs all add up to a high-BABIP hitter.
And remember, Lindor is doing this at a position where offensive standards are pretty low. This makes him a rare breed: a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who is also an advanced hitter. There may be shortstops with individual skills—Bogaerts' bat, Correa's power, Andrelton Simmons' glove, etc.—better than his, but no other shortstop in baseball today is the total package like Lindor.
For the Indians, this means they have a legit AL MVP candidate on their hands. If Lindor doesn't get the kind of attention he deserves before then, that would probably do the trick.